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Europe by Tandem

From Castellon (Spain) to Northern Cape (Norway) by Tandem supporting the fight against cancer.

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Day 35. Amelie les Bains- Vic

Posted by admin On Agosto - 14 - 2010

127 kilometers. 8 hours and 9 minutes.

JL: The Road just stood aside but overheard the tandem bicycle’s conversation with the Wind and the Sun. In the end, the road broke its silence and said: “My dear friends, you have overestimated, the entire time, the effect you exert on the tandem bicycle’s trip; you must not forget that it was I who brought the tandem bicycle back home.” The Wind and the Sun simultaneously burst into a fit of laughter after the annoyed road made its comment. However, they immediately muffled their laughter and looked at each other, somehow puzzled. The Wind snorted and said hastily: “With my power, I shook objects as I please; I can help them build up speed or I can slow them down; had I not brought good fortune, the tandem bicycle would not have made it”. The Sun furiously retorted: “It is my energy that endows good causes with courage and will and it was my generosity that gave the tandem bicycle the strength to get back home.” At that very moment, the Road gave a self-satisfied smirk and said: “what good is knowing all those things if you do not what the correct path is? It is I who guides men towards their destination.” Seeing the Sun, the Wind and the Road were on the brink of having an argument, the tandem bicycle asked for permission to join the conversation and said: “it is no use being the center of attention if others do not feel at ease with you. Receiving acknowledgement and tasting victory are better enjoyed when shared. That is the essence of teamwork and that was the reason why I made this trip in the first place.  It is good to keep this in mind and to say it to those who decide to travel to make their dreams come true.” And they all remained silent. 

Yesterday we didn’t succeed in splitting the ascent to the Col des Ares mountain pass in two days because of a summer storm that forced us to seek shelter ahead of time. We didn’t know whether to continue the trip in the rain or to stop until the rain ceased. We were starting to get cold; that was what made us decide to continue our trip later. We were soaked to the skin when we got to the hotel, once again. This morning, our sneakers were still wet. How unpleasant it was to wear drenched clothes!

So, today we had to meet a big challenge: to cycle upward from Amelie les Bains at 250 meters to the Col des Ares  at 1513 meters. We had to cycle uphill 35 kilometers in 3 hours and 54 minutes, shrouded in a thick blanket of fog, to cross the French-Spanish border. 10-degree slopes and a paved road in poor condition characterized this mountain pass. On the one hand, this mountain pass posed the greatest difficulty; on the other hand, it held the greatest appeal: the scenery and the mountain towns are worth it. The ascent was extremely tough (watch the video). We made it; not by using our legs; rather, by using our heads.   

For lunch, we had a ham and tomato sandwich, as large as the aircraft carrier Prince of Asturias, in Prats de Mollo. Later on, we bought some fruit in a street market before resuming our trip.

A swift and cold descent. Lunch in Campodron. We went by Ripoll and San Joan de les Abadesses; then we arrived in Vic. All these towns are worth visiting.

By the way, I can tell you, after cycling across six countries, that the roads in Spain are among the best in Europe. The road surface condition, the width of the hard shoulders and the number and clarity of the signposts far exceed everything we saw abroad. Unfortunately, motorist behavior in Spain is not on a par with what I mentioned above. Therefore, there’s still much room for improvement.

More kilometers added to the solidarity count. We’re getting even closer to home!

Day 23. Mülhausen- Neuhof

Posted by admin On Agosto - 3 - 2010

124 kilometers. 8 hours and 3 minutes.

JL: I found out, first thing in the morning, that my sunglasses were broken. Solution: to get new sunglasses at a gas station for 10.93 euros (quite sleazy, you may guess). Then, we saw that the back tire was worn out and had some cracks. Solution: to pull the whole wheel off and replace the tire. So, we decided to get the spare tire and, at that very moment, we noticed that our supplier got something wrong and sold us two 23-inch tires instead of 25-inch tires, which are the ones we use. Solution: to look for a place where to buy other tires. Apart from that, we noticed that the bicycle chains were too dry and too dirty; we had to fix it to avoid chain wear. Solution: to go to a gas station and lubricate them. Well, on our way to the gas station, it started to rain. Solution: to grin and bear it and to sing in the rain. The rain is no longer an issue for us; we walk in it as wild beasts do. At 3 in the afternoon, it started to rain…again. We didn’t even wear the slicker. OK, we travel forth in time. We arrived in our destination at night: Neuhof. We had a booking at the Gasthof hotel. Well, that two hotels had the same name, that’s the devil’s job. We had our reservation in a modern, traditional and charming hotel, with WI-FI internet access and breakfast buffet that takes your breath away. The other hotel had nothing of the sort: no-frills; it was filthy, and it had a kitchen where Freddy Kruger would be more than happy. Guess what: which of these two hotels did we first get into by mistake? On top of that, we’ll have to pay for the other hotel costs because we didn’t show up. Besides, since there was no internet connection, we could neither see tomorrow’s route nor upload it to the GPS, which means we will have to use a map in the old style.

Are we going to be in a bad mood? What for? Forget it! And to think that the stage started off, from the very beginning, with a slight head wind. We woke up at 7 a.m and, under the circumstances, we began cycling round 11 a.m. and got to our destination at 9:04 p.m. Not that bad if we take into account that the sun set at 21:08 p.m. We had to make a hard effort, so much so that there were only 8 kilometers to go and we had to stop to have dinner. Either we had dinner or we couldn’t make it. We ran out of strength for pedaling; we were empty. Salad, fish and potatoes in 20 minutes and, off we went so that it didn’t get dark.

But, it was worth it because we went round interesting spots.

First of all, the road went through two nature reserves: the Nationalpark Hainrich and the Biosphärenreservat Rhön. Since we cycled near the birthplace (Frankfurt am Main) of the German poet and scientist, J.W. Goethe, it doesn’t hurt to recall what he said about how to take in the beauty of the scenery:                                                          

You must, when contemplating nature,
Attend to this, in each and every feature:
There’s nought outside and nought within,
For she is inside out and outside in.
Thus will you grasp, with no delay,
The holy secret, clear as day.

Goethe—“Epirrhema” (1821)

In the second place, we crossed the old border that had separated West from East Germany until 1989. It is curious to see the border patrol surveillance towers, but nobody should forget to feel ashamed while they are visiting them or we wouldn’t have learned the lesson.

Last but not least, we saw the famous salt open-pit mines. Their appearance is amazing; you can spot, from a distance, a huge white mountain that sticks out in the green landscape.

Day 22- Magdeburg- Mulhausen

Posted by admin On Agosto - 2 - 2010

157 kilometers. 8 hours and  12 minutes.

IVAN: Today we gritted our teeth, flexed our muscles and panted for air; we did all this in time to the tandem music when cycling upward. That special swaying rhythmic motion you perform in partner dancing; a gentle and pleasing-to-the-eye motion that makes people who see us cycling fall under its spell (or that’s what I think). The funny thing is that we had a bad time; however, I can say it was a pleasant bad time. It feels so good to suffer when making a good ascent, especially after cycling for 50 kilometers on a flat area; which helped you warm up your legs enough to be on a first-name basis with the upward slope of the mountain.

Today we cycled around the heart of Germany. In fact, although there are still some stages to go, we could see some traces of the so-called BLACK FOREST. What a place! The Swedish, Finnish and Norwegian woods are spectacular and that’s a fact. However, the broad roads in these countries make the woods be at least 10 meters away from you; woods surround you. This is not the case here. Woods are on top of you. You’re not surrounded by woods, you’re deep in the woods. You cannot even see the sun. It’s dark in there. If it rained, you wouldn’t get wet. Another feature that characterizes this area is its road surface that is in perfect condition. The sharp curves make this place a paradise on earth for motorcyclists. We saw bikers in tons; they were wearing multi-colored outfits. Honestly! You should see the motorbikes they ride and the overalls they wear. They look as though they came out of a bag of Lacasitos (colorful button-shaped candies like the M&M’s): here goes a red one, and here goes a green one…

The anecdote of the day: At lunchtime and in the heart of Germany, we were confidently expecting to find a place (in the middle of nowhere or in the middle of everywhere depending on your point of view) where the cook, the owner, the waiter/waitress and the person in charge spoke English. Well, that wasn’t possible. Where we had lunch, there was only one woman who performed the cook, owner, waitress and person in charge roles. And, she didn’t speak English! What’s more, the menu was in perfect German and no translation was available. And, since we were starving and, since J.L and I are not that familiar with the German language, we decided to order one of each of the dishes on the menu, and whatever will be, will be! German food: not suitable for vegetarians, but, for God’s sake, how delicious it is!

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